First Presbyterian outreach helping Grand View students

Article from Tahlequah Daily Press

For more than seven years, First Presbyterian Church of Tahlequah has taken Grand View School students under its wing, either through encouraging learning or helping feed the kids.

Annette Haskins is an elder at First Presbyterian, a lay pastor, and moderator of the mission committee. She has also been with the Grand View outreach since the beginning, and she said it is one of their most consistent mission projects.

“We were reassessing the needs of the community, and it was the beginning of the cutting of budgets and stuff at schools. We started contacting schools to see where we could help. One of our member's sons was on the Grand View board at the time,” said Haskins.

The church began supporting Grand View's reading intervention grant by teaming up parish volunteers with struggling readers, according to Grand View School Superintendent Ed Kennedy.

“Former pastor Jan Condren, a former librarian, knew the impact that patient, thoughtful adults could have on the confidence and comprehension of emerging readers,” said Kennedy.

Teresa White became involved with the FPC’s outreach when some of the elders came to work with her students in reading and math.

“Twelve to 14 elderly [members of the] congregation tutored the second-graders, one-on-one,” said White.

She has since retired, but is one of the two part-time counselors at Grand View and is the school-church liaison.

“They’ve been a really good partner for us. They always ask what they can do to help our students,” said White. “The students are very blessed to receive all of the generous donations.”

Haskins said the tutoring program was successful for the few years they did it, and only stopped because of changes to the curriculum and the time when the tutoring could be done.

The backpack program began about a year after the tutoring did. This allows staff members to seek out students who may need extra food over the weekends, and they are given sacks of nutritious snacks and food to take home on Fridays.

Currently there are 56 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade being served through the backpack program. It has served upward of 75 kids in one year.

“We have a crew who does that. A gentleman coordinates getting the backpacks together every week. There are six volunteers,” said Haskins.

Each Thanksgiving and Christmas, FPC also supplies $35 food vouchers from Save A Lot to each family in the backpack program. White said there are usually extra vouchers, so some larger families may get two. Funding is through a grant from the presbytery, according to Haskins.

White said all the families who have benefited have been appreciative. Some have called, White said, and said they are doing financially better so they want to be taken off the list t let another family be helped.

Last Christmas, FPC donated books to all of the kindergartners. This year, students in first and second grade will receive books, as Grand View is matching FPC’s donation.

“We put ribbon on them and little cards to encourage them to read and for families to read together,” said Haskins. “It’s a Sunday mission project. The whole church participates.”

The students will normally make thank-you and Christmas cards during school for the church and its volunteers. White said she had planned to do that this week, but students have been moved to virtual learning because of the rise in coronavirus cases.

“It’s to show their appreciation. The students love doing that,” said White.

Haskins said the FPC members love their connection to Grand View.

“Some of my grandchildren attend a school about the size of Grand View, and it’s nothing like what Grand View does for them,” said Haskins. “It’s an innovative and wonderful school.”

White said she has recently met with Rev. Tammy Schmidt, the new FBC of Tahlequah pastor, about other projects they can do, as some needs are changing.

"Outreach efforts like these have made a positive difference for our students," said Grand View School Board President Jon Asbill.